Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day ” the third Monday in January. Also, by a happy coincidence, it is Dr. King’s birthday. Had he not been murdered, Dr. King would be 77 years old today!
Dr. King was a great thinker, a very canny and strategic activist, a passionate advocate. He is the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and, in his Nobel lecture, he wove together the three great campaigns of the latter days of his life: The struggle against racial injustice, poverty and war. Dr. King sought to project positive, progressive values into the world ” but not in an abstract way.
Here are his words, both beautiful and strong, about peace:
We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace. There is a fascinating little story that is preserved for us in Greek literature about Ulysses and the Sirens. The Sirens had the ability to sing so sweetly that sailors could not resist steering toward their island. Many ships were lured upon the rocks, and men forgot home, duty, and honor as they flung themselves into the sea to be embraced by arms that drew them down to death. Ulysses, determined not to be lured by the Sirens, first decided to tie himself tightly to the mast of his boat, and his crew stuffed their ears with wax. But finally he and his crew learned a better way to save themselves: they took on board the beautiful singer Orpheus whose melodies were sweeter than the music of the Sirens. When Orpheus sang, who bothered to listen to the Sirens? So we must fix our vision not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but upon the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war.
Dr. King was never content to spin words, of course. He took action, he inspired others to take action and achieved many great things.
I hope that you will take a moment to remember Dr. King today.
You can find out more about Dr. King and the ongoing work of his Beloved Community by logging onto the King Centre web site.
PS ” Sadly, the full facts about Dr. King’s murder have never been publicly established. In 1999, a jury in Memphis released a verdict finding that there was a conspiracy to kill Dr. King and that the conspiracy involved agents for the governments of the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee and the United States of America. The U.S. Justice Department has papered over the statements of an FBI agent and others about the nature of this conspiracy to kill Dr. King. As we approach the 39th anniversary of his assassination, the truth has still not been full revealed.